A while ago I was talking with a woman who, though baptized at the age of eight, had been inactive in the Church for many years. In the various areas of the country where she and her husband had lived, they had been contacted from time to time by different members of the Church who were trying to rekindle their interest and striving to get them to attend their meetings.
This sister had just recently accepted a position in the Relief Society organization, and when I asked her what had happened to touch her and cause her to respond to the assignment, she paused for a moment and then gave me an interesting answer.
“I think I can say it was the sincere and humble testimony of the two Relief Society visiting teachers who called on me one day,” she replied. “I was deeply touched as they talked about Relief Society, the wonderful sisters who attended, and the importance and value of the whole Church program. I suddenly felt that I was missing something, and that it must be important because they felt so deeply about the things they were telling me. I am so glad they had the sweet patience and understanding to visit with me and bear their testimonies, because now I too am enjoying the blessings of the gospel and the joy of activity in the Church.”
A testimony is a private thing, and yet it is something that must be shared if we are to fulfill our responsibilities to teach the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. I often wonder how many additional people we could reach if each of us would simply bear our testimonies to our neighbors and friends as proper occasions present themselves. We should never be ashamed of the gospel of Christ or hesitate to bear our testimony for fear of offending our friends and neighbors.
I recall a stake conference in Holland that Sister Tanner and I attended while I was presiding over the West European Mission. They called on four young people to speak in that meeting, and Sister Tanner and I did not understand one word that was spoken from the time the meeting began until an hour and a half later. I would not have thought I could enjoy a meeting under those conditions, but we really did. We could feel the Spirit of the Lord present there, and knew those young people and the other speakers were bearing fervent testimonies.
As I stood to speak, I had the interpreter ask the young people how long they had been in the Church. One of the girls had been in the Church only three months, and one of the boys four months. I could tell they had borne beautiful testimonies, and it gave me a stronger testimony than I had had before.
In conversation with them after the meeting, through an interpreter I found that they really had a testimony that God lives and that Jesus is the Christ. They knew with all their hearts that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that he had actually seen God, the Eternal Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ; that they had talked to him and instructed him; that Christ had come and given his life for us; and that through his crucifixion and resurrection we will all be resurrected and can, if we will accept and live the principles of the gospel, go back into the presence of our Heavenly Father.
When a person knows these things and has a deep conviction of them, he can bear a testimony in any language and be understood by those sharing the same testimony of truth, because the Spirit bears witness to us of the truthfulness of things of the Spirit.
Soon after this experience in Holland I had occasion to speak at a youth conference in France and had the same experience there. Although most of the meeting was conducted in English, we did have some testimonies in French; again we could feel the spirit of what was being said, even though we could not literally translate the words.
Testimonies can be powerful. Brigham Young said, “This Church is sustained by the individual testimonies of its members.” He also said that more testimonies are gained on the feet than on the knees praying for them. It is important for us to publicly acknowledge the goodness of the Lord to us, and to strengthen one another through our faith-promoting and spiritual experiences. Of course, some things are sacred and private and are not to be bandied about in public, but are for the individual and close family members only. Good judgment will dictate the experiences one may share with all.
Two of our missionaries in Europe told us about a family they had the pleasure of teaching and converting who lived closed to a high councilor in the stake. When they invited the high councilor to attend the baptismal service, he was extremely surprised and said, “I had no idea they would be interested in the Church.”
When I lived in Canada I had lunch one day with a man I had worked with for some time. I asked him what he knew about the Church and invited him to come to a sacrament meeting with me.
He said, “Can I attend your church?” I said, “Of course you can. Why did you think you couldn’t?” Then he said he had visited one of our temples and they would not let him in. No one had bothered to explain the difference between the temple and our regular meetinghouses, or to describe the programs of the Church, so he had the idea he was not welcome.
I did what I could to assure him he was welcome and that it would be worthwhile for him to attend. I explained our programs for women and children, and though he and his wife were social drinkers and she smoked heavily, they appeared at a meeting one Sunday. They were cordially greeted and made to feel welcome. Before long they were members of the Church, have since held important positions, and their children have served as missionaries. As a consequence of their efforts, his father and mother are members of the Church; her father and mother have been baptized; and his two brothers and one sister and their families are all members of the Church.
What a loss if I had failed to take the opportunity to tell this man about the Church! I shudder to think what my position might have been when I met him on the other side and he pointed at me and said, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
I recall a story about a young boy who had invited his friends to a party scheduled to be held outside, but the weather was such that they had to move indoors. A group of boys can create quite a bit of noise, and the mother was beginning to feel the strain of it all. She suddenly announced that she was going to give out a prize. They all stopped to listen, and she went on to say she was going to give a prize to the boy who could make the ugliest face.
She gave them a few minutes to practice, then called in her husband and announced that he would be the judge and select the boy who could make the ugliest face. He walked all around the room, deliberated very thoughtfully, and finally made his decision. Stopping by one boy, he announced, “You are the winner.” The startled boy replied, “But I wasn’t even playing.”
So it is with us as members of the Church. We may not even be working at trying to make conversions, or influencing people, but often they are watching us and judging the Church by our actions. I have heard more than one story about people who joined the Church because the actions of friends or neighbors prompted them to investigate a church that would turn out such fine individuals. It is sad to have to say that the actions of some of our members do not speak well for the Church and cause some to be disillusioned.
Let each of us so live as to be valiant in the cause of truth and righteousness, and let our light so shine before men that they will see our good works and be led to investigate the gospel truths which we espouse. May we do this through bearing fervent testimony in word and deed.